Using Your Body

Oh no we all shout, not only must think about what we say, how we say it and now what we’re doing with our bodies whilst we are having difficult conversations? It’s a swine isn’t it?

A few weeks back I referenced Albert Mehrabian and his work in what conveys attitudes in communication. Yes his work is subject to critique, however I think that we’d all accept that our bodies play a considerable part in how we communicate. Click here for a reminder of Mr Merhabian’s work. In this article I’m going to point us at a few areas that will help us use our bodies in a way that works for us.

It’s important to remember two important things relating to communication. Firstly that “we can’t not communicate” and secondly that “nature abhors a vacuum”. As soon as people clap eyes on us their brains start to construct stories based on age, gender, dress and a multitude of other factors. When we speak, what we say and how we say it is incorporated within the ideas that they have started to construct. What we may want to convey may not what we wish – it’s a nightmare and very difficult to control! All we can do is the best we can to manage our bodies in a way that confirms our voice messages.

  • Signify Your Intention With Your Shoes

We all know the scenario – we find ourselves cornered into a conversation we don’t want to have. We know that we should concentrate, pay the other person the attention that they may deserve, but we may want to be elsewhere. The chances are our body (and our mind) are heading for the door but we know that if we listen to this person we may get a good outcome for them, for us and for whatever context we are in. In such a scenario I am a believer of signifying my intention with my shoes! Look down. Where are your shoes pointing? I am going to take a wild guess and say that they are pointing towards the door. Pick ‘em up and turn them to point towards the individual to whom you are speaking. Now you can give them your full intention. It sounds daft but do try it!

  • Matching and Mirroring with Care

I’m guessing we all know the theory here. When we are comfortable with someone we often find ourselves arranging our bodies in a similar fashion. The theory is that by mirroring, copying, the body positioning of the person we are having the (difficult) conversation with and a more harmonious or connected conversation will ensue. Also if someone is waving their arms around in a agitated fashion, this theory suggests that a more sober reflection of these gestures, let’s say my moving our hands to the same rhythm, may be more useful than a totally passive approach.

This seems like useful information to me and I might just allow myself to notice how I’m positioned and make a subtle shift to suggest a connection. I know that the Nuero-Linguistic Programming people believe that this is magic and maybe they are right. I prefer to think that it’s just something that might help.

  • Minding My Body Language Whilst Not Evaluating Others

It goes without saying that it’s a good idea to be careful with your body – especially if you are worried that you may be behaving in such a way as to promote confusion of mis-communication. You may also be aware of your body positioning too. After all, you posses the kind of communication expertise and recognise the need to take small steps to improve what you do.

However there are some commonly held ideas relating to the meaning of certain types of body language. For example what does it mean when people like noticeably less eye contact than you – or noticeably more? What does it mean when people fold their arms when you are talking about them? The chances are that our responses to such question include “shifty,” “lying”, “weird”, “defensive”. I would prefer to be mindful of such judgements. Cultures differ as do people’s behaviour and sometimes folding your arms means I’m comfortable that way.

In a sentence, be careful of people’s judgements of your body language but don’t rush to make judgements of others.

Reflective Exercise

  • do the thing with the shoes. You know you want to 😉
  • just notice what your body is doing when you’re talking to another person. You don’t need to change it, just notice it
  • ask a colleague or a friend to notice you talking to someone (not them) ask them to describe what they saw. Take care with any evaluation about your body language, it’s the descriptions you want

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